"We took over an estate, it was a beautiful big house, a wine cellar, and cigars, and there’s, all in French, “Pour la Wehrmacht” for the German army, they had all this stuff."
Then the Governor General’s Horse Guard became active, and they became an armoured unit, tanks, whatnot. And at that time we had the parting of the ways, they found that I was not 19, but 17, so they sent me to No. Two District Depot which was the Exhibition, Canadian National Exhibition. And there when they found out that I had gone to Danforth Tech studying machine drawings. I was assigned to the 8th Field Company, [Royal Canadian] Engineers in Camp Borden [Ontario]. So I got shipped up to Camp Borden, in the fall of 1940, and shortly after that we were sent to Petawawa [Ontario] which is just north of Ottawa, on the Ottawa River actually. And there I spent the winter, summer. They assigned me to the transportation pool, which meant driving trucks, so the first thing I ever drive in my life really was a three ton truck.
On D-Day [6 June 1944, Allied landings at Normandy] we were stationed in Denham [Buckinghamshire, England] which is north of, west of London, the Denham Golf Course, actually, it’s also where they make movies, Denham Studios are right there. And on D-Day morning we could hear just a steady drone so we looked out, we were stationed right by an airfield, an RAF airfield, and these planes were taking off towing gliders with paratroopers on board so when they got over to Normandy they just cut them loose and they landed in the fields.
At the time we didn’t know really, we knew something was happening, or going to happen, because all our leaves were cancelled, you couldn’t get any more than 24 hours if you could get a pass. And not only that, on each side of the highways, for miles were all these army trucks, waterproofed, with the stacks going up. And they waterproofed everything, so when they came off the landing craft they could be almost submerged but it wouldn’t stop the engines from going. And you couldn’t get a leave to go near any of the sea ports because the beaches were all barbed wire and it didn’t matter who you were, you couldn’t get near them.
I left the 4th Battalion when I was in Basingstoke [Hampshire, England] and they assigned me to what they called Chief Engineer Works, it was actually Canadian Chief Engineering Works, 21st Army Group, and we were in charge of thousands of people. We were headquarters, for about 40 of us, and we were in charge of RAF airfield construction companies, our own Canadian [Royal Canadian] Engineer battalions, which built bridges, which built all sorts of things and the airfield contraction, they built airfields and when we went over, as I said, Chief Engineer [Works]. I guess going over I was the quartermaster, and I looked after rations, and I looked after the mail. I was also the censor, all I did was just stamp the [mail], I wasn’t going to read every one of those, we didn’t have a bunch of spies in our outfit. I knew that, but technically I was supposed to read all these guys’ mails, I just stamped them, passed by the censor. Well we’re still here so I guess everything went right.
I was on the advanced party with a couple of other guys and we went ahead and we eventually set up a headquarters in Brussels [Belgium] near Avenue Louise. We took over an estate, it was a beautiful big house, a wine cellar, and cigars, and there’s, all in French, “Pour la Wehrmacht” for the German army, they had all this stuff. We came in one end, the south end, west end, near the, where the Battle of Waterloo was fought years ago at Wellington [Waterloo, Belgium], there’s a big monument there in this day, we came in that way. The Germans were in front being chased by our fighting outfits. They [Belgians] were between us and the Germans, chasing them out, we get into Brussels and they kept on going and we stopped, and all the women are coming, “Vive les Canadiens, vive [kissing],” they thought we were the heroes we were just… Who cares, it just said, “Canada” on the sleeve and an army uniform, what the heck?
And then I was in Brussels on VE Day [Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945]. We scrounged a vehicle, and we painted it khaki and we put stars on it like, and numbers and everything, it was our own vehicle, and I remember driving that thing on VE Day through Brussels. You couldn’t move for people, they were ecstatic, they were so happy to be free.